learning the ropes

things I made at ITP and after: sketches, prototypes, and other documentation

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chip Select on AD5206

Ai-Chen and I did a bit of rewiring on the Secret Tree circuit board. One of the problems we had last week was that all of the ground wires for the LEDs on the trees were connected to two PCB terminals. I didn’t purchase enough terminal at RadioShack so that every pair could have a ground of its own. This not only made things messy, but it also made the connections suspect.

Updated Circuit 002

The other major discovery I made which explained much of the circuit’s random (unintended) behavior was that the two AD5206 chips interfered with one another. I plugged a single LED into each of the twelve outputs (across the two chips) and found that a simple test program didn’t operate properly when both chips were running. As soon as I disconnected the three data lines (CLK, SDI, and CS) from the second chip, the first chip would work properly. I wondered if there might be some sort of “floating” condition when the two chips were used together. Since CLK and SDI were shared, I hypothesized that CS was likely the culprate. To test this, I added 10K pull-down resistors on the chip selects of both chips. It worked! The test program dimmed the lights in the proper sequence rather than skipping around randomly on the third and fourth outputs.

posted by Michael at 10:02 pm  

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Second Wearable Cable Attempt

I tried again to make another cable prototype yesterday afternoon.

Signal “Wire” Layer
Second Cable Attempt - Clean Slate

Second Cable Attempt - with Conductive Thread - Straight Stitch

Applying the First Shield Layer
Second Cable Attempt - Added Conductive Fabric Shield (top)

Second Cable Attempt - conductive fabric shield closeup

Applying the Second Shield Layer
Second Cable Attempt - Adding Second Shield Layer

Second Cable Attempt - Second Shield Layer

Second Cable Attempt - Second Shield Layer (bottom)

Second Cable Attempt - Second Shield Layer (bottom) detail

My sewing was not entirely straight, so I’m not sure how well the prototype will carry audio signals. There may even be shorts between the layers. My next step is to test the “cable” with an audio signal. I want to try the wearable cable with a microphone to see how much noise my homemade cable produces. I also need to terminate the shield and signal wires with rings so I can solder wires or other connectors to them.

I’ve had another idea about how to make the cables: if I use wider strips of conductive fabric, I could make piping with a stitch of conductive thread down the middle. This would be easier to construct than my second prototype.

I’ve discovered that three layers of fabric and the associated stitching produce a fairly stiff package. I’m not sure if this will work well for creating curved “wire” paths in clothing.

posted by Michael at 1:06 am  

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Final Project Proposal Progress 2

I’ve been thinking about musical improvisation. While it may seem on the outside like a flight of pure fancy, there is actually a systematic approach to it. My idea is that the improvisation system is composed of two main components: vocabulary and inspiration. I believe many people possess the inspiration to improvise, but few have developed the vocabulary.

I feel that vocabulary can be further divided into technique, motif, and progression.

I want to create a personal project which expresses the essence of improvisation, communicates the joy I experience while participating in musical improvisation, and invites observers to become participants in a musical improvisation. The participants will provide the inspiration and the piece will provide the vocabulary.

There are emotional difficulties to improvisation: lack of confidence and fear of embarassment, to name a few.

posted by Michael at 12:05 am  

Monday, February 26, 2007

Secret Tree Pictures

We presented the Secret Tree in class on Thursday. Although the MAX patch didn’t work, the piece was well-received. We are in the process of finishing the piece for our midterm presentation.

Secret Tree - Progress-5 Secret Tree - Progress-6 Secret Tree - Progress-8
Secret Tree - Progress-19 Secret Tree - Progress-21 Secret Tree - Progress-9
Secret Tree Circuit -1 IMG_0958
posted by Michael at 11:22 pm  

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Final Project Proposal Progress

Lisa suggested that randomness was perhaps a big idea to explore. We were talking about the idea that making musical expression – or more so – that the express ion of emotion (a seemingly random phenomena) through music requires a great deal of methodical / non-random- ordered, organized effort..

She wondered what sort of music might be produced it the keys on the piano were randomly arranged – tossed there – instead of their linear arrangement in ascending order by pitch from left to right. She wondered if it would be possible to make music on a randomly arranged keyboard.

Would that keyboard be reshuffled each time the performer play or even during the performance?

I cannot conceive of the possibility of developing technique on such an instrument. At the same time, I think this could have the potential to lower the barrier of musical communication between between a professional music and a beginner (or even a non musician) in a collaboration. If the professional musician do esn’t have any technique on an instrument he will not be able to clearly express his ideas. If a situation of improvisation is created with musician and non musician under these constraints, perhaps they can have a musical dialogue on a level playingfield — each able to break through his or her preconceived notions about musicality, expectations, goals…

Hot/Cold — temperature or color
“I enjoy the rich, resonant bass tones of a Steinway piano – the warmth of those tones combined with the fragile glass-like tones of the treble notes”

Personality Types of Musicians

The Language of Music
MIT researcher Michael Hawley spoke to us in Red’s class last semester about his projects and adventures. What stuck with me about his presentation, though, was his passion for live music. His presentation made me think about the idea that in the not so distant past, the piano was the home entertainment system. This sophisticated entertainment system required a nontrivial amount of learning in order to operate. What have we lost in giving up this formerly essential skill of playing the piano to merely playing the radio, CD player, or iPod?

posted by Michael at 9:43 pm  

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sewing Lessons

Kelly taught me the basics of machine sewing this afternoon. Thanks for your patience, dear… I wasn’t the most model student. We discussed properly squaring up the fabric, threading the machine, and guiding the fabric.

I’m trying to create wearable audio cables which are a component of final project.

Wearable Audio Cable Exploded

Sewing Lessons 003 - Squaring Up the Fabric Sewing Lessons 005 - Threading the Machine Sewing Lessons 007
Sewing Lessons 010 Sewing Lessons 008 - Settings Sewing Lessons 013
Sewing Lessons 012 Sewing Lessons 013 Sewing Lessons 014

The result of my first experiment was not so successful. The machine seemed to choke on the conductive thread, even though I was feeding it from the bobbin (sp?).

First Cable Attempt-5 First Cable Attempt-4

posted by Michael at 9:33 pm  

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I drove up to Dia.Beacon with Alice, Andy, and Rory to hear Max Neuhaus’ Time Peace Beacon. As I entered the building, I felt small — dwarfed by the scale of the building and the ideas contained within it.

I found it interesting how Neuhaus’ piece was able to dialogue with the ambient soundscape of the site without overwhelming it. I felt his sound successfully integrated with the sonic environment, transcended it, and left it different than before I heard it. Just as Peter had described in class, the absence of Neuhaus’ piece once it finished left a space behind.

We created a comical incident while listening for Neuhaus’ work. I became convinced at one point, while we stood in the semi-silence outside the cafe doors at Dia.Beacon, I was hearing a low-pitched throbbing sound. Its regular rhythmic rumble remained at the edge of my perception. I don’t know what I heard, but it wasn’t Neuhaus’ work; after standing outside for 20 minutes, we finally decided to ask the museum attendants at the bookstore what we were supposed to be listening for. The piece plays at seven minutes to each hour and they claimed we would know when it was happening.

Back outside shortly before 3:53pm, we heard a train pass in the distance and wondered during the ensuing silence if we had been fallen for some big joke.

Then, almost imperceptibly, a tone began to emerge from the ambient sounds. I would describe it as a rich, sweet droning. It reminded me of a note sustained on a pipe organ — majestic and vibrating. It was harmonically complex, yet seemingly a single tone. The tone grew in intensity and complexity. It was a beautiful sound, but only fleeting. It ended abruptly and yielded its place back to the existing environment.

I can’t say how, but I felt the environment was changed somehow in those moments after the sound stopped. The sound’s absence left behind a lingering memory and a heightened awareness of what my ears were now hearing. The sounds of the site seemed somehow amplified by the absence of Neuhaus’ work.

What would this work be like if we hadn’t been expecting it at all. Would we have been caught by surprise?

posted by Michael at 11:02 pm  

Friday, February 23, 2007


1. Sample 1 Blast
A short blast produced by applying envelopes to both the sound amplitude and to the resonant frequency.

2. Although this isn’t strictly noise (in many regards, far from it)… I had the pleasure of listening for a few minutes to a talented performer in the subway.
Come Back to Me

3. For my distortion patch, I took the clean sample from #2, and played it backwards through Peter’s simple distortion patch. CAUTION: this sample is very loud. Turn down your volume before playing.

4. Sample 4 Sputter
Here is a sputtering sound I’ve created using envelopes. I started off trying to make a simple beat patch using envelopes, but it started heading more in the direction of a sputtering noise.

Download samples as a package (excluding the field recording).

posted by Michael at 1:41 am  

Monday, February 19, 2007

Considering a Final Project

I’ve been wrestling with ideas for the Final Project all week. Now it’s Monday afternoon and we’re going to discuss projects in class tomorrow night. The following are excerpts from my notes during the past week and a preliminary concept.

I started off listing… concrete ideas and potential questions to ask Amit:
DFC Final Project Notes-0

I picked an area of interest and started mind-mapping from there… possible project ideas, audiences, and whatever else came to mind at the time:
DFC Final Project Notes-1

I had a discussion with my mom earlier in the week about the design of library websites and wondered if I might like to do a project in this area. At the same time, I was also thinking about Maywadenki again and deconstructing something familiar to me: the piano.

DFC Final Project Notes-2

From all possible ideas and areas of thought, I constrained myself to those which I was currently interested in: music and sound. This afternoon I began to further develop the idea of working with the piano as inspiration. An idea for a Process began to take shape, but is at this point incomplete. I liked Maywadenki’s use of alphabetic characters to define their process (they have and A, B, C, D, E, F, G production process as well as the A-Z Naki nonsense machines). I wondered if I could use an acrostic of the letters PIANO to define my process.

DFC Final Project Notes-3

I wrote a statement of intent for the project, but I still don’t have a particular “user task” defined.

DFC Final Project Notes-4c

posted by Michael at 5:10 pm  

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Secret Tree Progress

Work continues on the Secret Tree project. Today we finished cutting out the branches, building a support framework, and unfolded it for the first time. It was almost magical.

posted by Michael at 10:08 pm  
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